Photo essay: The ‘Bee Beard’ returns to Philadelphia during the 2022 Honey Festival

Don Shump poses with his head, neck, and upper torso covered in honey bees at the Philadelphia Honey Festival. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Imagine you’re a knight in Game of Thrones — but your heavy helmet is made of honey bees. That’s how Don Shump describes the experience of wearing the ”‘Bee Beard,” an event that’s part of Philadelphia’s annual Honey Festival. A crowd of intrigued children gathered around Shump on Thursday evening at Glen Foerd, a Fairmount Park property along the Delaware River. Shump, a longtime Philadelphia beekeeper, tied the bees’ queen around his head and then waited for the roughly 15,000 bees to swarm his face, as he answered questions from his captivated audience.

“Will the bees come to sting us?” someone inquired.

“We hope not … we haven’t had that happen yet,” Shump answered. “However, when dealing with beekeepers, if a beekeeper starts running, I encourage you to run faster.”

Shump said the bees don’t hurt his face.

“They’re all grabbing on, their tarsal claws are into my skin … it’s like really tiny acupuncture.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Children later fed the bees off Shump’s face with sugar water. Some held multiple bees in their hands, fearlessly. Shump’s goal is to educate kids about bees so they become more than just afraid.

“Hopefully … they’ll become beekeepers when they get older.”

Honey bees are more than just entertainment — they are vital parts of our ecosystem, pollinating $15 billion worth of crops each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,

The Honey Festival will continue through Sunday, Sept. 11, at Bartram’s Garden.

Don Shump prepares to have his ''bee beard'' made for a presentation at the 2022 Philadelphia Honey Festival. He’s tying the queen bee around his head, so the bee swarm will follow. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Don Shump prepares to have his ''bee beard'' made for a presentation at the 2022 Philadelphia Honey Festival. He’s tying the queen bee around his head, so the bee swarm will follow. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump’s assistant, Megan Smith, pours a batch of honey bees into the beekeeper’s lap. He waits for them to swarm his face. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump’s assistant, Megan Smith, pours a batch of honey bees into the beekeeper’s lap. He waits for them to swarm his face. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
The ''bee beard'' covers Shump’s head, neck, and upper torso, at the Philadelphia Honey Festival. Shump said his face feels like one half of velcro. The bees’ buzzing fills his ears, which he said is a calming sound. The cotton in his ears stops the bees from entering. ''If I look like I'm nodding off, that's why.'' (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
The ''bee beard'' covers Shump’s head, neck, and upper torso, at the Philadelphia Honey Festival. Shump said his face feels like one half of velcro. The bees’ buzzing fills his ears, which he said is a calming sound. The cotton in his ears stops the bees from entering. ''If I look like I'm nodding off, that's why.'' (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump captivates his audience of small spectators. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump captivates his audience of small spectators. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump shows children how to feed the bees with sugar water. He tells the kids to not make any quick movements around the bees, to avoid being stung. ''We call it the zen of beekeeping. If you move slow, you get stung a lot less.'' (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump shows children how to feed the bees with sugar water. He tells the kids to not make any quick movements around the bees, to avoid being stung. ''We call it the zen of beekeeping. If you move slow, you get stung a lot less.'' (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Children at the Philadelphia Honey Festival feed honey bees sugar water. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Children at the Philadelphia Honey Festival feed honey bees sugar water. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Children at the Philadelphia Honey Festival feed honey bees sugar water. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Children at the Philadelphia Honey Festival feed honey bees sugar water. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump poses for a photo with Chris Trainor and son Braedon, 7, at the Philadelphia Honey Festival. Braedon had never seen that many bees before. He was afraid at first — now, he says, he might hang out with bees again. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump poses for a photo with Chris Trainor and son Braedon, 7, at the Philadelphia Honey Festival. Braedon had never seen that many bees before. He was afraid at first — now, he says, he might hang out with bees again. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump poses with his ''bee beard.'' His Thursday was nearly ruined when he received a call from his wife: ''She said, ‘Don, the queen died.’ And I was in a panic. I was like, ‘I just put her in the package last night. How do you know? She’s surrounded by bees.’ ‘No, no, no. The Queen of England.’ I was like, ‘Oh, well, thank goodness.’'' (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Shump poses with his ''bee beard.'' His Thursday was nearly ruined when he received a call from his wife: ''She said, ‘Don, the queen died.’ And I was in a panic. I was like, ‘I just put her in the package last night. How do you know? She’s surrounded by bees.’ ‘No, no, no. The Queen of England.’ I was like, ‘Oh, well, thank goodness.’'' (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Saturdays just got more interesting.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal